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Lesson 14: Go To My Website

“Everyone’s a publisher.”

–Marshall McLuhan

Amazon.com might have the greatest mindshare of all ecommerce websites. It accounts for about a third of all online sales in the US, and it has 33,000 employees.  Jeff Bezos originally named the company Cadabra (Short for Abracadabra), but he rebranded with the name Amazon because his intention was to create the largest virtual marketplace. It initially had the tagline, “The world’s biggest bookstore,” but it was designed to become so much more.[i]
Bezos intended for it to expand into a platform that would sell virtually everything. Notice how the arrow in the Amazon logo points from a to z. That is no accident.
Amazon.com sold their first book in July 1995. They turned their first profit in 2001 and it now has a market cap of 281 billion.[ii]  You may not dream of becoming the next Amazon, but your website will be just as critical to your success in your field.
Your website is a gateway to that which you have to offer the world. It does not have to be elaborate or expensive to be effective.  However, you have to create it, update it, and adjust it to be sure that you are meeting the demands of your market.
For the sake of simplicity, there are only two types of websites. The first is a virtual storefront. This is where you go to make a purchase. Amazon.com is a good example of this type of website. The entire purpose of Amazon is to bring buyers and sellers together so that business transactions can take place.
The other type of website is a blog. Blog is short for weblog. Blogs take many forms. The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report are news blogs. TechCrunch and Gizmodo are tech blogs. There are blogs by individual large organizations and individual authors. If you have an interest, someone, somewhere is likely blogging about it.
Blogging does a number of things, but for our purposes, a blog creates a connection between you and your market. If you have interesting things to say about your field, a blog works as a tireless salesman, establishing your credibility while you sleep.
 
Your Website
Entrepreneurs often see a website as a luxury. A generation ago, that was true; a website was a luxury. Now, it is a business necessity. The internet has shifted the way we find information and search for products and services. Often research is completed on a smart phone. Not having a website is as bad as not having a phone number. It limits access to your business and it makes you look unprofessional. Today, this is as true of contractors as it is of those in white-collar professions.
Independent agents of large organizations often have a single dedicated page of a company website. Sites like this tend to be ecommerce sites. The agent may send clients there to purchase products, but it is not enough. This type of site does nothing to set you apart from others. It is a minimum bar.
What you want is a website that will draw others to you, demonstrate why prospects should work with you instead of the competition, and establish your credibility in your field.  You need an independent presence—a website of your own. I am not suggesting that you need a duplicative ecommerce site. If you already have one of these, you need a blog. If you do not have an ecommerce site, a blog can be carefully expanded to offer your wares, but you will want to start with a blog.
 
You Must Become a Blogger
What is a blog? According to Webopedia:
The origins of blogging go further back than the Internet to the days of personal diaries, chronicles and other written forms of personal musings. Today, a blog is considered to be a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual or company. Blogs are typically written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order to the reader. Online media, such as discussion forums and email lists are also considered to be predecessors to the blog.[iii]
Your blog will allow you to tell your story. It can be informal or it can be all business, but it should project your message. It should also project your brand’s personality (and of you are your brand, this should be easy).
Your blog should add value to those who are interested in what you have to sell. In fact, this should be your primary purpose in creating a blog. In Content Rules, Ann Handley and C. C. Chapman offer a brilliant example of effective blogging that transformed a business:
Marcus Sheridan is one of three owners of River Pools and Spa in Warsaw, Virginia. The company installs swimming pools and hot tubs throughout Maryland and Virginia. Since joining the business in 2002, Marcus has spearheaded tremendous growth at the company. Despite years of record rainfall, a housing slump, and the slacker economy, River Pools and Spas continues to grow: in 2009, it sold more fiberglass fiends than any other company in the United States, where it’s among the top 5 percent of all in-ground pool companies.
A big reason for that, Marcus says, is his company’s approach to business. ‘I used to see my company as a ‘pool company.’ [We] installed lots of swimming pools and therefore we were a pool company.’
‘In hindsight, though, this mentality was all wrong,’ he says. ‘Today, I see my business as a content marketing company. In other words, my entire goal is to get more valuable, helpful, and remarkable content to consumers than anyone else in my field, which will in turn lead to more sales.’
Through a steady stream of blog posts and videos (the company publishes one to three a week) and an e-book on the subject of ‘how to buy a pool’ (with the subtext ‘without getting ripped off’), Marcus set out to create the most educational and informative swimming pool website on the Internet.
‘I want our website to be an encyclopedia of pool buying.’…‘Most people searching online or sophisticated,’ Marcus says. Most are not searching for just pools, as they’ve probably already done some preliminary research and narrowed their choices. ‘I put myself in the mind of the consumer and think, ‘What questions do I have unanswered?’’[iv]
Regardless of what business you are in, potential customers have questions and they want answers. Marcus has enjoyed enormous success in the pool business by answering questions about the pool business. How can you replicate his success in your field?
 
Blogging Platforms
A number of blogging platforms are available, but I will present you with some of the more common options. These include Typepad (www.typepad.com), Hubpages (http://hubpages.com/), Blog.com (www.blog.com), Blogger (www.blogger.com) and WordPress which offers a limited free version (www.wordpress.com) and a more robust but unsupported version where you must find a web host (www.wordpress.org). Each service has positives and negatives.
Blog.com is a free service that creates a URL that reads: yourname.blog.com, which is pretty good if your purpose is to blog for expertise rather than to create a storefront. It tells the customer that this is a blog, but it looks more professional than a typepad.com address.
If you are just starting, I would recommend that you begin with WordPress. I use WordPress myself, and I have required my students to create WordPress blogs. The URL of your limited version of WordPress.com site will read: yourname.wordpress.com. While this is a sure sign that the site is an amateur effort, WordPress overcomes this obstacle by allowing you to use any domain you can purchase for a nominal fee. Moreover, if you start on WordPress.com, you can transfer to WordPress.org seamlessly at any time.
WordPress is the best choice for a number of reasons. More than 76 million bloggers use WordPress. This represents roughly 25 percent of all websites worldwide.[v] It may be popular because it is very easy to use. In fact, by the end of this lesson, I will teach you how to set up your own WordPress blog.
 
Setting up a WordPress Blog
When you go to www.wordpress.com you will see a screen that offers two options—Create Website in the center and Log In in the upper right corner. You will choose Create Website.
Next, WordPress will walk you through the necessary steps to create your site. It will offer a number of free themes.  I would recommend a simple, clean theme with a sidebar like Twenty Sixteen.
WordPress will offer you the option to name your site. You can have  yourname.wordpress.com for free or remove “WordPress” for a small fee. Since you can upgrade at any time, you can skip this step for now.
Next, you will provide a username and password. Once you confirm your identity (an email will be sent to your email account), and you confirm it again with an activation email, you are ready to begin.
 
Customization and Consistency
This will sound odd, but you need to simultaneously think in terms of customization and uniformity. You want to customize the message about your brand and this leads us to uniformity. Whatever message you have on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter should be reiterated on your blog.
For example, let’s say that Harry Silverstein is a financial planner and his USP is that he has a technical background that allows him to easily automate everything. His tagline is: “I make financial planning easier than breathing.” That tagline should be evident on his blog too.
Human nature is a funny thing. Studies show that people gravitate toward that which is familiar. In fact, they find the familiar so comfortable that they often prefer that which is familiar (even if they know it is incorrect) to that which is true but outside their experience. When it comes to human nature, cut with the grain. Be consistent.
What is true of your message is also true of the look and feel of your blog. If it’s for company, it should include your logo (if this is permitted). If it is personal, you will want to use the same picture that you use on your other social media sites.
Ironically, it is this need for consistency that will require you to customize your blog.  On the left hand side of your WordPress dashboard you will see a number of menus: Publish, Personalize, and Configure. Under Personalize, select Themes and click customize.
This will bring up a new menu that will help you customize your blog to make it your own. I’ll walk you through the steps:

  • Site Title, Tagline, and Logo: You can change the Site Title to something other than the name of your blog. Just remember, it should bring clarity to your message. Don’t get too clever. Using the example above, Harry, the financial planner might want to rename the blog “Financial Automation” or “Instant Savings.”  He can use the tagline: “I make financial planning easier than breathing,” or “the official blog of Harry Silverstein.”  You will note that as you change the title and tagline, it will instantly change on the screen before your eyes. If he has a logo, he might want to add it.
  • Colors and Backgrounds: This allows the user to change the blog to particular color palettes. Try different colors until you can settle on one that resonates.
  • Fonts: Change the feel of the site quickly by changing the fonts. Play with this until it feels right.
  • Header Image: The header should be consistent with the stated message. A picture is not necessary, but the right picture can enhance the feel of the site.
  • Menus: The menus are limited but customizable.
  • Widgets: Widgets allow you to further customize how the user experiences and navigates the site. You will want to experiment with the order and number of widgets.
  • Static Front Page: How do you want your visitors to experience your site? Do you want them to see the same message each time or see your latest post? Adjust your front page accordingly.

The options on this menu will vary depending on the WordPress theme you choose. The principle of clarity should be your North Star.
Have you ever endured a PowerPoint presentation where the speaker spent too much time adding bells and whistles? If he overdid it, the presentation was gaudy; the enhancements were overwhelming. The message was obscured by spinning objects and unnecessary clip art. Do not do this with your website. Aim for clarity— simplicity in your message, a layout that does not distract, and a refined aesthetic.
Next, visit the Settings tab under Configure. At minimum, you want to set your time zone and allow search engines to index your site. At this point, you are ready to begin blogging.
 
Creating a Blog Post
Under Publish, you will see two choices: Blog Posts and Pages. Pages should contain important information about your blog that should change much over time. Common pages might be About, Products, and Contact Us. These pages with very depending on the type of product or service you sell.
Posts, on the other hand, are the meat and potatoes of blogs. Your goal is to create an ever-expanding library of ideas, knowledge, or product reviews. Again, it all depends on the purpose of your blog.
To create your first post, click Blog Post. You will immediately see a new screen that will let you start writing your post. You will see a small, expandable menu like one you would see in Microsoft Word. Fill in the title. Then, start writing. Harry might write something like this:
 
What is the ROI of Your Time?
-Harry Silverstein
“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” -Bil Keane
We all need to plan for the future, but many of the people I know would rather have a root canal than sit down with a financial planner. The key to taking the pain out of financial planning is automation. If you can answer a few simple questions, a good planner should be able to program how you should invest for the future.
This is not foolproof. I would not recommend that you trust your future to software over an advisor. You will need to interact with your planner from time to time to be sure that you are on track. But, it can be automated.
How much is your time really worth? It is your most valuable commodity. If you run out of money, you can make more, but when you are out of time, you are out of time.
To determine how much time you waste in mundane tasks, divide your annual salary by 50 (the number of weeks in a year). Divide that by 40 hours per week. If you make $85,000 a year, you make 1,700 per week or $42.50 per hour.
Now, if you spend 2 hours a week reviewing your financial plan, that is $85 per week or $4,250 per year. What if you could hire a professional to worry about your financial future for you for a fraction of the cost, freeing up two full work-weeks of your life? Wouldn’t that be a better approach?
If your time is the most valuable thing you have, plan to plan accordingly. Work only with those who get the job done while saving you the maximum amount of time. If your financial planner can’t tell you how to make this happen, find someone who can. Spend that precious time with your loved ones. Leave the minutiae to a trusted advisor.
-Harry Silverstein
 
In this example, Harry provided valuable information to the market, he was not hard-selling, but enticing them to think about his business the way he wants them to think about his business.
All Harry has to do is click the Publish button and he is a blogger. He can enhance his post with a picture, key words that will help Google find his message, and by sharing this post on other social media outlets.
I will share more about refining this process in a forthcoming lesson. For now, get started. Blogging is not that difficult and the potential rewards are great. There is nothing stopping you from starting a blog. You do not need to spend a fortune to have a website.
Please do not misunderstand this last line. There are marketing professionals who do fine work creating and maintaining websites. However, I do not want your think that you need to have $10,000 to get started with a website. You can begin today.
 
Paper Trading
If you are still not convinced that you can or should create your own website, in spite of the risk-free WordPress platform, let me suggest that you paper trade. The term paper trading is a term from the world of finance. Investopedia describes it as follows:
Paper trade refers to using simulated trading to practice buying and selling securities without actual money being involved. While a paper trade can be done by simply keeping track of hypothetical trading positions, it usually involves the use of a stock market simulator that has the look and feel of an actual stock market where budding investors can hone their trading skills.[vi]
Do the same. Practice creating your own website and writing effective posts, but eliminate your exposure. You can do this in two ways. In WordPress, under Settings, choose Visibility and select “I would like my site to be private, visible only to users I choose.”  This limits your downside risk, but it also eliminates your upside potential.
Or, you can simply make your website anonymous until you choose to reveal who you are. This second approach will allow you to interact with the world and receive the benefit of learning which topics are valued by the market. Think of this as market testing if you are not ready to release your identity.
Whatever you do, do something. Perhaps you plan on creating a website someday. That someday is today. As Peter Drucker said, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”[vii]
So, what is stopping you from creating a website? It is no longer a knowledge gap. Is it time? Time expended on your blog will pay you back. It is an investment. Is it fear? Do not let fear cripple your success. As Henry Ford said, “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”[viii] You can do it. Do it now.
 
Actionable items:
 
What did you learn in this lesson? Now that you understand how to create a blog, follow the instructions and build your first blog. If you already have one, what can you tweak?
 
 
What did you learn about blogging that you will use to enhance your business?
 
End Notes
[i] Elliot, A. M. (2011). Amazon.com Facts: 10 Things you Didn’t Know about the Web’s Biggest Retailer. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/07/22/facts-amazon-com/#ei.jh2247iq1
[ii] Amazon.com (n.d.). Google Finance. Retrieved April 10, 2016 from https://www.google.com/finance?q=amazon&ei=-MYKV-jdDdaYmAHPpq2wBQ
[iii]  Beal, V. (2014, Nov 8). The History of Blogging. Webopedia. Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/history_of_blogging.asp
[iv] Handley, A., & Chapman, C. C. (2011). Content rules: How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars (and more) that engage customers and ignite your business. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.
[v] Smith, C. (2016, April 1). By the Numbers: 25 Amazing WordPress statistics.  DMR Stats|Gadgets. Retrieved from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/wordpress-statistics/
[vi] Paper Trade (n.d.). Investopedia. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/papertrade.asp
[vii] Edersheim, E. H., & Drucker, P. F. (2007). The definitive Drucker. New York: McGraw-Hill. (p. x).
[viii] Moses, R. (2014). The 15 secrets of millionaires. Google Book Edition. CreateSpace.
 
Content created by Darin Gerdes. Copyright Great Business Networking.